Movie Review: "Surviving Confession" (2019)
There’s a neat trick at play in Matthew Tibbenham’s first feature film: a movie about religion and how it affects a Catholic priest that’s simultaneously not about religion at all. Pretty nifty, right? Stay with me. There are forces at work here that are indeed mysterious.
Father Morris (Clayton Newrow; Nymphomaniac Vol. 1) is up for his 3-hour turn in the confessional on a Friday night. He hates this part of the gig- the banal transgressions, the lack of true contrition, the sheer pointlessness of it all. He’s a man of the cloth whose cloth is wearing thin. When a rough, vibrant, hyper-sexual teenage girl named Amber (Jessica Lynn Parsons; S.W.A.T.) enters for a one-on-one session, she turns his world upside down by challenging both his notions and his very faith.
May I make a confession of my own to keep with the theme of this review? Thank you. Here goes: I’m not AT ALL a religious man. I grew up Wesleyan Methodist and have zero use for it all. I believe in God while openly defying the constructs of organized religion and maintaining an open mind. There are a lot of folks out there like me (and many who’d call me a fool), but in a lovely twist Surviving Confession hits perfectly for all of us.
Though it comes across as more stage play than theatrical film thanks to the almost entirely one-room setting, Surviving Confession is never a struggle to stay highly invested in. The cast of parishioners that come for either anonymous confession or one-on-one (my mind was blown by the fact that you could do that!) are varied in tone and effect. The film is surprisingly humorous given the specter of religion hanging over it all but never comes off as even remotely blasphemous or in poor taste. That’s a hard line to walk, but I’ll be damned if they don’t pull it off.
Clayton Nemrow is an actor to watch. He deftly handles the task of showing us that priests are people, too, and that your sins aren’t as mortal as you might believe. As Father Morris, he’s freakishly charming and likable. Were I inclined to do the Catholic thing, I would happily put my trust in this dude. His counterpart, Jessica Lynn Parsons, draws your eye by being both a stereotype “bad girl / free spirit” and showing you glints of the vulnerable young girl beneath the veneer. It’s a relationship that keeps you fully in the moment. You know a revelation is at hand. There’s a fantastic chemistry between the two where each clearly desires what the other has.
The twists and turns of the story provide some powerful moments of both humor and bleakly ugly humanity. Father Morris’ affections for the wife who’s being cheated on are endearing and relatable. A game of Confessional Style Truth or Dare is a highlight. The tale of the dying man who just wants “get right with the man upstairs” and “cover all his bases” will make you more than a little ill. It’s strong stuff that makes the good Father’s fall from grace and subsequent reaffirmation both logical and beautiful.
The final act will leave a mark even if you see it coming. Therein lies another neat trick: you’re entertained by the performances and the unexpected humor, but when you realize there’s a deeper message it gives real value to the film. This is what indie filmmaking is all about! Surviving Confession asks you to look at yourself, your own sins, and your use (or lack thereof) for organized religion while showing you that the priest (a reviled figure if there ever was one in this day and age) is only human after all.
Perhaps the film is best summed up with a killer line. Father Morris suggests that he’s a lousy priest, to which Amber replies, “You can be a bad priest and still be a good man.”
Give it some thought.
4.5 out of 5.0 stars
Surviving Confession premieres on Google, Amazon Video, and iTunes on July 30th, 2019